Si Vintners is the brainchild of Sarah Morris and Iwo Jakimowicz, a couple who travelled the world before making a home in the Margaret River. Today they are all about natural farming and pushing the boundaries in a region that is one of the most conservative in Australian wine. Margaret River may be a bit of a hippie surfing town, but it doesn't have a reputation around the world for organic viticulture and natural winemaking. But in 2010, this started to change when Sarah and Iwo chanced upon a vineyard for sale, a vineyard with some of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in the region. They immediately worked on converting to organic viticulture, something few people think of when they think Margaret River. But the discovery of this unconventional vineyard helped inspire Sarah and Iwo’s somewhat unconventional approach to grape growing and winemaking.
A boy from Poland finds a new home in Australia
Sarah and Iwo are first generation vignerons. They don’t come from a long line of storied grape growers and winemakers like Timo Mayer or Abel Gibson, but in the relatively short time as vignerons they have been building a strong legacy. It’s been a fascinating journey to the Margaret River for them. Iwo Jakimowicz emigrated with his parents from Poland to Perth in 1987 and quickly fell in love with his adopted home. The lifestyle, the weather and the food were just some of the elements that Iwo fell for. Another was surfing, so it wasn’t long before the surfing mecca of Margaret River was on Iwo’s radar. At the age of seventeen it was time for young Iwo to decide his next steps after finishing high school. When leafing through information on different degrees he was excited to learn that the newly offered degree in oenology required work experience in regions like Margaret River. Combining a current love of surfing with a potential future love of winemaking was almost a dream come true.
As fate would have it, Iwo’s choice of degree turned out to be quite a charmed decision. It was while studying the freshly minted oenology degree at Curtin University in Perth that he met Sarah Morris. They shared a nascent love for grape growing and winemaking, and they also shared an enthusiasm for learning more about these through university study and by gaining practical experience by working vintage in Australia and around the world. While Sarah and Iwo shared interests and followed similar paths travelling the world gaining experience by working vintages, they weren’t on the journey together just yet. They both worked vintage in vineyards in Italy, Switzerland, and Spain. This practical experience allowed them to compliment the technical knowledge gained through their studies with the real-world knowledge. Plus, they both realised they loved the lifestyle of following vintages from the Southern to Northern hemisphere every year. It’s something that they still do to this day, spending time every year making wine in Margaret River and in Spain.
From fellow students to building a wine legacy
Spain is close to Sarah and Iwo’s hearts in several ways. They love the places, the people, the food and the wines that make the country unique and special. After several years as flying winemakers they started working regularly in Spain for an American wine importer. Like many Australian flying winemakers, they were employed to add some ‘new world’ wine flavour to a traditional Spanish wine region. At the time, bigger is better was the mantra for many around the world with certain wine critics lavishing praise on thick, syrupy uber-rich wines. While Sarah and Iwo were more than capable of producing exceptional quality wines to whichever specifications were required, they soon started to think about doing their own thing. They looked at some of the amazing old vines and thought about what they could do if they had free reign to make exactly the wine styles they wanted. They also thought about what was going into the wines they were making, they thought about the chemicals used in the vineyard and winery… Was there a better way that was more aligned with their lifestyle and their love of organic produce?
There is only one way to go if you want to have full control over the winemaking process. You need to own the vines that you are working with if you truly want or need to control everything that goes into making wine. While Sarah and Iwo started their wine label whilst sourcing fruit from growers, the goal was to always find and purchase their own vineyards. By 2010 they were more than ready to make the move from winemakers to vignerons and chanced upon a vineyard for sale in the Margaret River region. This was one of the oldest vineyards in the region, planted in 1978 long before the region had forged its global reputation as a home for fine wine. While the vineyard contained many of the ‘classic’ Margaret River varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay it also had some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the region. This provided Sarah and Iwo the chance to find their own expressions of the region’s classics while showcasing the lesser lights in new and interesting ways.
We’ve got a vineyard or two… Now what do we do?
As soon as they took ownership of the vineyard Sarah and Iwo got to work converting the vineyard to organic practices. In the winery, they had both always worked with a light touch, favouring minimal intervention, but the new found freedom that came with having full reign over the process from vine to glass opened up a new world of possibilities. Organic practices soon morphed into biodynamic practices in the vineyard, while concrete eggs joined more traditional winemaking equipment in the winery. The full gamut of winemaking practices were put to work to find new and exciting ways of expressing the terroir of their vineyard sites in Margaret River and in Spain. Whole bunch fermented Semillon, skin contact Sauvignon Blanc co-fermented with Cabernet Sauvignon now sit alongside more traditional expressions of Margaret River Chardonnay and Merlot. An excitingly diverse range of wines from one of Australia’s more traditional wine regions that is thrilling wine lovers in Australia and around the world.
“The fruit is the most important thing. We spend a lot of time out in the vineyard, Sarah and I and the people that we have working for us. If we don’t have the right fruit then we can’t make the wines that way we want to make them.”
What does the future for Si Vintners?
While they have achieved so much in so little time, you get the feeling that Sarah and Iwo have only just begun to find their feet. They’ve now had seven years or so to learn about their vines and every year they are discovering more and more. They continue to develop and refine their winemaking philosophy and practice, learning to make wines with as light a touch as possible. Avoiding winemaking faults and treating each wine on its own merits rather than applying a (whole bunch/no sulfur/insert winemaking technique here) formula every year. It’s a style of grape growing winemaking that leads to new and exciting challenges every year, but it’s these challenges that make owning their own pieces of land both in Margaret River and in Aragon in Spain so rewarding. And in turn they are inspiring others in the Margaret River to look at how they are growing their grapes and making their wines. Helping to inspire a new generation of wines from a classic Australian wine region, adding to the diversity of the Australian fine wine story. For Sarah and Iwo it’s a story that’s really only just getting started. If the first seven years are anything to go by, we can’t wait to see how the story unfolds…
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